Roll out that magic carpet


Teacher recruitment is an area which few parents will have spent much time thinking about yet it is hugely important. Tim Hands reflects on the best ways of appointing staff and what this means for parents and pupils.

As soon as Christmas was no longer coming, the jobs section of the Times Educational Supplement would, in pre-digital days, start getting very fat. For the New Year was, and remains, the traditional appointment season. In what follows, names have been altered, and identities confused.

Once, a fellow Headmaster offered me a lift to the railway station. He drove a new Jaguar and wore driving gloves. He also drove a very highly respected school, where he interviewed every prospective pupil, but not a single aspiring member of staff. Conversely, I never interview a prospective pupil, and always interview every prospective member of staff. How interesting, we both mused, enthusiastically lauding each other's practice, whilst both secretly averring we had it just about immutably right.

Appointing staff is the most important thing I do. Every year I try to refine how I do it. My father advised never paying any attention to degree result, let alone A Levels. Just look for character. Alas, I'm no longer so sure. Exams matter more, and tell you more, than they used to. We start off with a team of three reading the letter and CV. One side of letter is more than enough. I've no concern with why they want to come: I'm only interested to find out from the CV what their track record shows they have done already. That means a strong academic record in their subject, and some extra-curricular activity to a high standard.

It used to be the case that the mark given to the application was, along with the observed lesson, the best indicator of the final choice. Then, a few years ago, I appointed a couple of people for whom the lesson had gone badly, and it jinxed us all. So we wrote to everyone who had applied for any job that year and invited them to comment on their interview experience. The huge number of variables (age of class, ability of set, time of day, level of prior preparation, quality of relationship with usual teacher) suggested the unreliability of the discriminator.

Dr Tim Hands, a former Chairman of HMC, is Headmaster of Winchester College.